As a society, we’ve come a long way in our views of mental illness — yet there is still somewhat of a shame, a misunderstanding, a fear towards those who circumvent “normalcy.” That’s why author M.E. Thomas did not think twice about using a nom de plume to write her Confessions of a Sociopath. Sociopaths, she says, can be charming, confident, smart, and optimistic. They can also be deceitful, irritable, aggressive, hurtful. We’ve all met at least one. They may be a family member. They may even be us.
Lori: Many in society have misconceptions about sociopaths, and little to nothing has been written about it in the way you did. Why do you think this is the case?
M.E.: It’s a good question. My experience is that most people hate sociopaths. The world can be complicated and ugly, and sociopaths are convenient scapegoats as the villains. The alternative is to believe that all types of everyday normal people do evil things—that you yourself are capable of doing evil things.
In professional wrestling, there are explicit “faces” and “heels.” These characters are actors representing the simplest poles of humanity: good guys and bad guys, protagonists and antagonists, in narratives whose roots come from a basic attempt to explain the world. But can real people be so categorically angelic or evil? I’ve tried many times to make that point myself, but since I’m a sociopath, people are reluctant to trust my take on it.
Tell us about the writing of this book. How difficult was it to, in a sense, look at yourself in the mirror and put your story out there?
The hardest part about writing the book is that I am not good at self-reflection. Luckily I had already done quite a bit of self-discovery in writing the blog, posting almost daily for several years. That was really helpful. Even so, I struggled to find stories that resonated with people. Events of my life that I found deeply meaningful often fell very flat with readers, and vice versa. I found it hard to explain myself and still wonder if I succeeded.
Do you think you’ve set the record straight about these types of personalities? What feedback have you received (from those who have identified you)?
I don’t think I was ever trying to set the record straight so much as give another side to the story, and I hope I was successful at that. I’ve had some pretty extreme reactions to the book, both positive and negative. I’ve lost friends. I’ve suffered adverse employment consequences. Some readers felt like it changed their lives. Others thought it was interesting but still concluded that sociopaths are ultimately despicable people.
Was it difficult to find a publisher?
There were some editors and publishers whom I spoke with who did not want to deal with this particular subject matter. Some felt ethically constrained. I think they were worried that publishing the book might be irresponsible or that they would be normalizing or glamorizing something dangerous and/or wrong. But everybody at Crown/Random House was very supportive. They showed immense faith in me and did everything they could to ensure that the book had wide appeal without distorting its basic message.
Were you a reader/writer before you wrote your book? What thoughts had you had about memoir writing?
I’ve never been a natural writer, but have always loved to read. I loved it to distraction, actually. When I was in college I made a rule with myself not to read for pleasure during the semesters; otherwise I would get too caught up in a story. Writing the blog and then the book was great because I was able to justify reading more, especially memoir, since I had not been a big memoir reader before. In fact, the book I originally pitched to publishers was not memoir so much as nonfiction with a personal slant. It was only after speaking to several editors that I was convinced that the most valuable part to my story was just that—my story.
What has life been like since publication?
It’s had its ups and downs. It’s very rewarding to get fan mail and disappointing to lose friends. People have a certain vision of the way that life should be lived, theirs and yours. Some people think it’s unseemly to air dirty laundry, and a lot of people judged me for telling personal details about my family and friends. They thought it was wrong and that I wasn’t trustworthy because of that. But my family and closest friends have been great, very understanding. I think that was largely due to a lot of communication and trying to accommodate their concerns early on in the process. I managed to avoid some potential fallout by writing the book under a pseudonym. Remarkably, although my life has been damaged in some ways, there has been no collateral damage in the lives of other people. Knock on wood.
Lori M. Myers is a New York-based award-winning writer and Pushcart Prize nominee of creative nonfiction, fiction, essays, and plays. Her work has been seen in more than 45 national and regional magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. Her plays have been produced overseas, in Canada, and across the US, three are published, and one was a Broadway World Award nominee. Lori has a masters in creative writing from Wilkes University and currently teaches at Dominican College in New York.